The furthest point east that I am going on this trip is the RSPB reserve at Minsmere in Suffolk. On multiple occasions in the early and mid 1970s, I had been a voluntary warden here, often with my friend Richard who I stayed with last week. We had a great deal of fun doing many jobs around this diverse reserve – known for its lagoon “the scrape” and its reedbeds, but it also has excellent heathland and mature broadleaf woodland. I was keen to get going from Bill and Bonk’s home in Bury St Edmunds as the forecast was for rain. Bonk rode with me for about a quarter of the 82 km distance.

Ready for the off just after 8

I got to the Eels Foot pub in Eastbridge, next door to Minsmere and probably the place where I was most weaned onto beer, by 1300. I had booked a room and no sooner than I was in it than the heavens opened. But I was here for birding and most birds continue to be around in the rain, and I had waterproofs – albeit a jacket in fluorescent yellow – I got quite a few looks from the drably dressed birders on the reserve – Sorry all!

The scrape, with the domed presence of Sizewell B nuclear power station in the background
Messing about at Minsmere in the 1970s: Richard pretending to be a dead sheep (an obscure reference to a Monty Python sketch about sheep that could fly – caused by that rare creature, a clever sheep called Brian)
Behaving ourselves at Minsmere in the mid 1970s – Richard and a workparty put up a fence somewhere near the best place to spot adders on the reserve
The sluice and the sluice bushes – one of the best places for migrant passerine rarities on the reserve
Pied avocets were the totemic bird that caused the reserve to be designated, and were adopted by the RSPB as their logo subsequently

I skipped lunch and headed off in the rain for the reserve – figuring that I could birdwatch inside the dry hides, and hopefully the rain might stop in due course. I hired a pair of binoculars (having decided to leave mine behind to reduce weight) and set off around the scrape. I certainly got wet but managed to see nearly everything on the ‘recent sightings’ board. The scrape has not changed much since we helped construct it in the 1970s – there was though an apology for the stray bits of plastic bag that were visible in places – erosion of the overlying gravel has revealed the plastic bags that we laid to prevent/reduce vegetation growth on the artificial islands.

Heathland, reedbeds and the Island Mere
Reedbeds – I could hear, and eventually saw, a Savi’s warbler in about the middle of this photo

I had to return my binoculars at 1700, but I still had not checked the regular site for stone curlews… another relatively rare breeding bird that Minsmere’s heath makes good habitat. I was lucky enough to bump into another birder who lent me his binoculars to have a look, and bingo – three of them!

The was a stone curlew (actually three) in the background here!

So an excellent day despite the rain. I was very pleased to see Cetti’s and Savi’s Warblers, Stone Curlew, Bittern, Bearded Tit, Avocet and the wonderful habitats of the reserve. Perhaps the oddest of all though, were three ground nests of kittiwakes – this species is usually exclusive to cliffs or cliff-like buildings.

In the 1970s, we only had one tractor and trailer. The best bit was that we were allowed to drive it!
Nothing like the twittering of swallows – this one right outside my room in the Eels Foot.

Totals: Birds on trip 101, Distance today 88.1 km and cumulatively 970 km. Ascent today: 518 m, running to date 10705 m.

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